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Huskies split with Regals as playoff plans become uncertain

With a two-game series against the Powell River Regals over the weekend, the Nuway Crushing Whitehorse Huskies have reached the minimum of six games to compete for the Coy Cup.

With a two-game series against the Powell River Regals over the weekend, the Nuway Crushing Whitehorse Huskies have reached the minimum of six games to compete for the Coy Cup - B.C.‘s AA championship trophy.

But how that will happen isn’t cut-and-dried.

As the weekend’s series wrapped up, it looked as if Whitehorse would host the Fort St. John Flyers the weekend of Feb. 6 and 7. The series would decide which team would represent the northern region at the Coy Cup this March in Terrace.

With hotels already booked, it now seems that might not happen.

The Flyers were on the verge of clinching first place in their division of the North Peace Hockey League and a bye into the league’s playoffs, freeing the team to travel to Whitehorse the first weekend in February. However, the Flyers lost Saturday and must win their final regular season game Thursday to do it.

“If FSJ does not finish first in the North Peace league, they will lose the bye into the playoffs. This would mean they cannot commit to any weekend for a play down versus the Huskies between Feb. 1 and the Coy Cup,” said Huskies general manager Matt King in an email to the News.

“FSJ will know where it stands on Sunday. Until then we are on uncertain ground.”

If the Flyers are unable to play the Huskies, as the defending champions they could be given a bye into the Coy Cup, said King.

“Then B.C. Hockey will require a three-team playoff to challenge for one spot in the Coy Cup between Huskies, Powell River and North Island at a date, location and format yet TBD,” he added. “I should add that B.C. Hockey has only tentatively confirmed all of this at this point. It puts us in a tough spot in terms of planning, but we will do what needs to be done to challenge for the Coy Cup.”

At least if the Huskies must square off against the Regals and the Port Hardy North Island Capitals, they’ll have a good idea of what to expect.

The Huskies, who twice beat the Capitals earlier this month, split a two-game series against the Regals over the weekend. Whitehorse won 5-3 Friday and lost 6-5 Saturday in front of a crowd of over 700 spectators both nights.

“That was a good game out there. It really had a playoff feel to it: two teams heading tine same direction, wanting the same prize,” said Huskies head coach Michael Tuton. “Tonight it was just a great atmosphere and we were happy to be in it. We were OK being down a couple goals going into the third because it was time to see what we’ve got, see what we can come out to do.

“I’m super proud of the way we came out in the third. We didn’t end up completing the comeback, but we didn’t give up either. There was a good lapse in the first period where we could have hung her up and called it a day and they could have walked all over us.”

The opening period of the series was the fastest and hardest hitting so far this season. Players on both sides bent over for face-offs huffing and puffing for air.

Saturday’s first period was also fast - in terms of goals. The Regals snapped three in 70 seconds for a 4-2 lead.

“Obviously we would have like to come away with both wins. We kind of got in a hole tonight and tried to dig ourselves out right down to the wire and weren’t able to do it,” said Huskies assistant captain Derek Klassen. “But that’s good. We have a couple more weeks before we play some games that really, really matter, so it was good to get a couple games in this weekend.”

After six games this season, Klassen leads the team in scoring with three goals and nine assists. The forward notched four assists against the Regals.

Huskies forward Kane Dawe sniped two goals Friday and now has seven points on the season. Ted Stephens posted three points with two goals Saturday and sits with eight points in total.

Captain Evan Campbell racked up three assists over the weekend and scored his team’s final goal on Saturday - his first of the season - and has eight points total.

“They were both really even games. Yesterday we flew up so our legs were a little slow to start, but every period was a close battle that could have gone either way,” said Regals captain Andy Welsh. “They had chances tonight and we had chances to score last night. It was two even games and it worked out perfect. We got a split; both teams got a win.”

The Regals, who won the Coy Cup in 2010, weren’t able to bring their full line-up to Whitehorse over the weekend. But that’s just the nature of senior men’s AA hockey, said Welsh.

“Road trips in senior hockey - it’s always tough to get all your players to go,” he said. “Some guys had commitments they couldn’t get out of. But we managed to get enough players - nine forwards and five D - to come up. That’s just enough to make it work; anything less and I think we would have been in trouble.”

The home team wasn’t much better off, missing players to injuries and prior commitments. Gone were assistant captain Jared Tuton, former pro Kevin Petovello, Colin Dendys, Kaleb Dawe and Joe Densmore, who was leading the team with nine points before the weekend.

“We’re missing a few guys out of the line-up, which hurts,” said Klassen. “We’re playing with 10 forwards and five D. When you get into a game with lots of power plays and penalty kills, guys start to get worn down by the end of the weekend. But that’s something we need to get used to if we’re going to keep moving on. It’s a good test for us.”

The Huskies’ bench also got shorter during the series. Goalie Brad Gustafson left Saturday’s game after the first period with a broken finger from a slap shot. Whitehorse’s J.J. Gainsforth, who was in net for Friday’s win, went in for the last two periods.

“I was kind of thrown in the fire there,” said Gainsforth. “I had to put my head on and get out there.”

“This weekend was a big test for us. To respond as a team and go down, let in three goals in the second period last night and come out and close the door in the third to win the game - that’s huge for us,” he added.

The Huskies, who now have a 4-2 season record, lost to the Fort St. John Flyers in two playoff games last March to end their run for the Coy Cup.

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